The Opening of Dilworth Park Was Nice, But …

While citizens baked in the sun, shaded politicians talked … and talked … and talked.
The crowd at Dilworth Park — just before the sun emerged from behind City Hall.

The crowd at Dilworth Park — just before the sun emerged from behind City Hall.

I wasn’t there when a woman at the Dilworth Park ribbon-cutting went down like a sack of potatoes this morning — I’d already left the sun-baked area near the stage to take refuge in the shade near City Hall, worried that I was about to deal with some heat stroke issues of my own. I had to hear about the poor woman later from a friend.

And it made me a little cranky.

Listen: The Dilworth Park project cost tens of millions of dollars. It remade an ugly eyesore into a public space that, when everything is done — there’s still a little work to do on finishing the lawn space planned for the southwest side of City Hall — may be one of the more beautiful, vibrant and active places to see and be seen in Philadelphia. Everybody involved deserved to take a victory lap.

The problem? Just about everybody involved took a victory lap.

Why’s this a problem? Let me set the scene.

The stage for the event contained a few dozen elected and bureaucratic officials. Paul Levy of the Center City District that oversaw he project, was up there, along with Mayor Nutter. (To their human credit — if not their political capital — both men sat near Congressman Chaka Fattah, who has had a few problems of his own.) There were officials from the state, Congress, the Federal Transit Administration, SEPTA, and most of City Council. Almost everybody on stage got a five-minute crack at the microphone.

And they were all sitting under the shade of a tented roof.

The crowd — good citizens, several thousand strong — all had to bake under the late-morning sun on a day hotter than many we’ve had all summer. It took a toll. Some of us moved to the shade, as I said. There was the aforementioned woman who got faint. A lot of people started fanning themselves and chatting with each other. There was just too much self-congratulation to take.

Now again: The congratulations were earned. But when you have several thousand people sweating under the sun, the best thing to do as a public official is to figure out how to shorten the ceremony as much as possible just for the sake of everybody’s physical comfort. To do otherwise is actually kind of disrespectful to the crowd that has gathered. After they’ve heard half the people on stage congratulate the other half of the people on stage for their good work, additional commentary sure seems redundant.

I realize that there’s a Way That Important Things Are Done, but doing it that way today took a pleasant time and turned it … well, less pleasant for a lot of people. If you’re going to dedicate a “people’s park,” do it with the comfort of the people in mind, OK?

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